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MLB SIGNING BAN ON MEXICAN PROSPECTS TO END
Major League Baseball and the Mexican League have reportedly worked out a new agreement that outlines how MLB organizations will sign Mexican prospects.
For the first time ever, young Mexican ballplayers will receive the entire signing bonus called for when they sign their first contract to play for teams north of the border. According to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros, LMB teams holding the prospect's domestic rights will also receive an amount of money equal to 35 percent of the signing bonus from the MLB organization. The new pact is expected to be formally announced at next month's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Prior to the new arrangement, LMB teams holding domestic rights to Mexican prospects as young as 14 years old were able to negotiate the sale of those rights outside the country, then typically give the prospect 25 percent of the proceeds. The system sometimes inflated the price a Major League organization would have to pay LMB franchises for signing young Mexicans, leading MLB teams to seek less-expensive talent in places like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic while the Mexican player would have to remain at home in order to play.
The old system was also subject to chicanery, with one egregious example being right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, a 6'5" Mazatlan native who signed a contract with Pittsburgh at age 16 in 2010. The deal was facilitated by Pirates Latin America scouting director Rene Gayo, who reportedly took his own cut of a reported US$2.6 million deal between the Bucs and the former Veracruz Rojos del Aguila, who owned Heredia's rights in Mexico. MLB subsequently investigated Pittsburgh's signing of Heredia, who spent seven years in the Pirates system and registered a career 26-26 record with a 3.88 ERA before his release following the 2017 season, and (at the behest of Liga president Javier Salinas) decreed in January that no big league scout could work simultaneously for an LMB team. Two months earlier, the Pirates fired the Miami-born Gayo after 13 years with the organization after his role in the signing was confirmed.
However, that was not enough to put the issue of LMB player control to rest and in the wake of the "Rookiegate" scandal involving the Quintana Roo Tigres, Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Texas Rangers, MLB subsequently instituted a ban on its member organizations from signing Mexican prospects via Liga franchises until a new system considered more fair to the young players could be hammered out. A number of Mexican League teams with the financial means to develop their own homegrown prospects, such as the Tijuana Toros and Mexico City Diablos Rojos, have benefitted from such sales in past years.
For his part, Heredia (who never advanced higher than Class AA) has not pitched since last year's release from the Pirates. The 24-year-old's Mexican League rights have been retained by the former Veracruz franchise, which was moved by owner Jose Antonio Mansur to Nuevo Laredo last winter while his hometown Mazatlan Venados hold Heredia's Mexican Pacific League rights.
CULIACAN NEARS FIRST HALF LMP TITLE WITH 3 GAMES LEFT
With three games left in the Mexican Pacific League's first-half schedule, the defending champion Culiacan Tomateros are on the verge of clinching first place in the standings along with the eight points assigned to the top finisher in each half. Ali Solis' walkoff single to deep short brought in Rico Noel from third base with the winning run Sunday as Culiacan nipped Mexicali, 3-2, in front of 15,557 fans at Estadio Tomateros. A native of Mexicali, the 31-year-old Solis played pro ball for 13 seasons, with cups of coffee in San Diego (2012) and Tampa Bay (2014), before batting .366 in 21 games for Fall champions Monterrey in his Mexican League debut this year. THis is his eighth winter with the Tomateros.
Sunday's victory gave Culiacan a 20-12 first-half record, three games ahead of Mazatlan (17-15). It's been an unusually close race in the LMP over the first 35-game half of the 2018-19 season and while there's now a smidgen of breathing room, Culiacan is six games ahead of last-place Los Mochis (14-18) in the eight-team circuit while the second-place Venados are only two games up on Jalisco and Obregon, who are tied for sixth at 15-17. Needless to say, the four upcoming midweek series will be hard-fought as teams try to finish as high on the table as possible to secure as many points as possible heading into their respective second-half schedules Friday. For the record, Culiacan will be at Hermosillo, Mazatlan will visit Navojoa, Los Mochis is hosting Mexicali and Jalisco will welcome Obregon to Guadalajara in three-game series starting Tuesday as the MexPac wraps up the half.
After a number of hitters were flirting with a .400 average most of the first half, bats have been cooling down leaguewide the past couple weeks and now nobody is within 40 points of that magic mark. Mazatlan's Alex Liddi, a former Mariners infielder and a key player with Tijuana's 2016 Mexican League championship team, is tops in the LMP with a .358 average, seven points ahead of Navojoa's Victor Mendoza, who's been a backup first baseman for Monterrey the past six summers. Mendoza's Mayos teammate, Jovan Rosa (a one-time Cubs prospect and four-year vet of the independent Atlantic League) homered in consecutive games against Obregon to tie Jalisco's Manny Rodriguez for the MexPac lead in roundtrippers with seven apiece. Rodriguez is tops in RBIs with 26, two more than Rosa's 24, while Navojoa second baseman Alonzo Harris (who led the LMP in batting much of the first half and still packs a .342 average) tops the stolen bases list with 16 in 18 attempts.
Mazatlan's Konner Wade limited Obregon to one run while scattering seven hits last Thursday to run his record to a perfect 5-0 on the season. The Arizonan has won his past four starts and his 2.27 ERA would tie Elian Leyva of Jalisco for second in the LMP (behind the 2.23 of Mexicali's David Reyes) but Wade's 31.1 innings pitched are barely below the 32 IP required to qualify. There's a spirited battle for the strikeouts lead, with Mexicali's Javier Solano (35) one K ahead of Jose Hernandez of Mazatlan and Obregon's Sean Nolin. Hernandez, a 22-year-old Astros minor leaguer, has whiffed his 34 batsmen in just 26 frames while walking only three. Even with those impressive numbers, the Venados' hometown product is 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in six starts after giving up seven runs in three innings against Hermosillo last Friday.
Speaking of the Venados, they swung a trade last week that sent pitcher Miguel Gonzalez to Culiacan for veteran slugger Jorge "Chato" Vazquez. Known as "El Mariachi," Gonzalez has spent the past seven seasons pitching in the majors, six as a starter. He won a combined 21 games for Baltimore in 2011 and 2012 but has struggled since. The 34-year-old righty has pitched four winters with the Venados but none since 2010-11. Vazquez, a former Yankees farmhand who belted 32 homers for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011, has had an injury-plagued career that began as a 17-year-old with the Mexico City Tigres in 1999. He retired during the 2017 season as a member of the Mexico CIty Diablos Rojos but came out of retirement to play for Durango this year, batting .257 and .297 with a combined eight homers over 46 total games. The 36-year-old Vazquez was hitting .243 with no homers in 14 games when he was traded by his hometown team, for whom he'd played 16 winters.
VIZCARRA: OUT IN YUCATAN, ON HOT SEAT IN JALISCO
The Yucatan Leones have parted ways with manager Roberto Vizcarra, who led the team to the Mexican League Spring 2018 pennant after finishing with a Liga-best 40-17 regular season record. Vizcarra then took the Leones to place first in the LMB South a second time at 32-24 for the Fall campaign before Yucatan dropped a first round playoff series to Oaxaca. A 72-41 record with two first-place finishes and a championship in one year would ordinarily be enough to save a manager's job, but losing to the Guerreros may have been what cost Vizcarra his. Oaxaca went 26-30 to come in fifth in the South, then had to beat Leon in a wild-card game to qualify for the postseason; the Guerreros eventually beat Mexico City for the South title before losing to Monterrey in the Serie del Rey.
The 51-year-old product of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora debuted with Leon in 1986 as a 19-year-old infielder and went on to play 23 summers for five teams in the Mexican League, ending his playing career with Campeche in 2008. Vizcarra mostly played first base the final seasons of his career but was proficient defensively at all four infield positions. No matter where he played in the field, he was always useful in the batter's box, stroking 2,581 hits for a career .304 batting average. The 5'9" right-handed hitter was more noted for his speed (470 doubles, 465 stolen bases) than his power (229 homers) and topped the 1,100 mark in both runs scored and runs batted in.
Vizcarra has since been no less successful as a manager. He debuted as a helmsman in 2014, taking Quintana Roo to a Liga-best 65-48 record and a berth in the LMB South finals. The Tigres went 64-47 and won the pennant under Vizcarra in 2015, then turned in a 68-45 mark in 2016 but were swept by Puebla in the first playoff round. "Chapo" was cut loose in Cancun late in a 2017 campaign in which the Tigres fell to 49-56 and lost to Puebla in four straight once more. He was hired by the Leones in the offseason and did manage the Merida team to their first pennant since 2006 last spring, so it's unlikely Vizcarra will be out of work in the LMB for long.
Then there's his current winterball situation with the Jalisco Charros. As with Yucatan, this is Vizcarra's first Mexican Pacific League season in Guadalajara after he was fired by Mexicali last November after managing the Aguilas to a 16-19 first-half record. He'd led the border city to an LMP pennant and Caribbean Series berth just nine months earlier. The Charros hired him a week later to replace ex-MLB outfielder Tony Tarasco as dugout boss. Vizcarra took the Horsemen to a 15-11 record the rest of the way and a berth in the playoff semis last January before losing to Navojoa in six games.
Jalisco is off to a 15-17 start this winter and while the seventh-place Charros are only half a game out of fourth, four LMP managers were either fired or quit less than one month into the season and Vizcarra's future in Guadalajara is said to be in doubt. The Charros have a veteran-laden roster with such stars as Japhet Amador, Manny Rodriguez, Amadeo Zazueta and Agustin Murillo (and that's just the infield), but the pitching has been subpar and the team in general has not met lofty front office expectations. It should be noted that Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez, himself a longtime passenger on the Mexican managerial merry-go-round, is one of Vizcarra's bench coaches while ex-Dos Laredos slugger Marco Antonio Romero (who has managed in the LMB) is also on the Charros' staff. Just in case.
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